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Sarah Bradstreet

GED Writing Prep: The Four Present Tenses and Their Uses

GED Writing Prep: The Four Present Tenses and Their Uses
 
The GED tests your writing skills in a couple of ways on the Reasoning Through Language Arts exam — the essay and the multiple-choice questions that ask you to correct grammar and usage. Sharpening your grammatical skills is a great way to prep for both of these.

Today, let’s work on understanding some common verb tenses. When you think of verb tenses, what first comes to mind might be past, present, and future, but there are many more verb tenses within these broad categories. For now, we’ll focus on just the present, because there are actually four different present tenses.

Wait… four present tenses?!

It’s less overwhelming than it sounds at first. You use these all the time. You just might not know what they’re called. This guide will help you put a name to what you’re probably already doing and help you make sure you really understand the rules so that you can apply them correctly on the GED. So without further ado, let’s get started with some GED writing prep: the four present tenses and their uses.

The Four Present Tenses

The present has four tenses:

  1. simple present
  2. present perfect
  3. present continuous
  4. present perfect continuous

Confusingly enough, not all of the present tenses indicate that something is happening in the present. It actually makes sense, when you think about it. How often do we need to describe what we are doing right now, in this exact moment? More often, we speak about something that happens regularly, something that is continuing to happen, or something that has happened in the past that has bearing on the present moment. Each present tense offers a slightly different meaning, letting us communicate the complex way we think about time. Let’s look at each one.

1. Simple Present

The simple present is usually used to make a timeless statement. You can think of the simple present as addressing things that generally happen in your lifetime, in the present period (however you want to define that), or things that have always happened and will always happen. But, as the sentence is being spoken, the action might not necessarily be happening.

  • I eat oatmeal for breakfast. (I am not eating oatmeal right now, but in general, I eat oatmeal for breakfast.)
  • You study too much. (You may or may not be studying right now, but in general, I think you study too much.)
  • The earth revolves around the sun. (It is right now; it always has; it always will.)

Note that simple present can sometimes indicate what action is happening right now, in this very moment, without generalizing or referencing the past or the future. We usually don’t speak this way, but some fiction is written this way. For example, you might read a mystery novel that goes something like this: “She lifts the paper from the desk and holds it close to her face, squinting. She sees something peculiar on the page: a little mark, kind of like a backwards ampersand. The mark glows red.” In this case, the verbs lifts, sees, and glows are simple present, but they indicate actions that are happening now and only now, not timeless, habitual actions.

Construction

Simple present follows this very basic construction:

verb

Simple, right? It’s only the verb base. You don’t have to do anything to change it. The simple present of the verb write is write. The simple present of the verb run is run. Easy! The only exception is when speaking in the third person, singular. In these cases, the tense follows the construction:

verb + -s/-es

For example, “He guesses.” Or, “She listens.”
 

 Singular Plural
First person I eat. We eat.
Second person You eat. You (all) eat.
Third person He/she/it eats. They eat.

2. Present Perfect

The present perfect tense involves actions completed in the past that continue or otherwise relate to the present.

  • I have finished my homework. (I finished my homework a moment ago, so in the present I am free to do something else.)
  • You have done a good job with this. (You did well on that thing you finished before, which we are looking at now.)
  • She has drunk all of the chocolate milk. (She drank all the milk in the past, so there is none to drink now.)

Construction

Present perfect follows this construction:

have + past participle

 
Note that in the third person singular, the construction is:

has + past participle

 
To refresh your memory, a past participle is usually a verb that ends in –ed. For example:

  • walked
  • wished
  • whistled

Walk, wish, and whistle are regular verbs, so they follow the –ed rule. Past participles can also be made from irregular verbs. In these instances, the verbs don’t end in –ed, but are spelled differently. For example, written is a past participle of the verb write (not writed). Worn is the past participle of the irregular verb wear (not weared).

 

 Singular Plural
First personI have eaten. We have eaten.
Second personYou have eaten. You (all) have eaten.
Third PersonHe/she/it has eaten. They have eaten.

3. Present Continuous

The present continuous tense is also called the present progressive tense. This tense is used to express an action that is happening right now. With the use of adverbs, it can also be used to describe something that will happen in the future.

  • I am reading. (I am reading right now.)
  • You are driving me crazy. (You are driving me crazy right now.)
  • He is going to college this fall. (He will go to college in the future.)

Construction

Present continuous follows this construction:

“to be” + present participle

Note that the “to be” verb is usually are, except for the singular first and third person.

singular first = am + past participle
singular third = is + past participle

A present participle is a verb that ends in –ing. For example:

  • wishing
  • hoping
  • praying

 

 Singular Plural
First personI am eating. We are eating.
Second personYou are eating. You (all) are eating.
Third personHe/she/it is eating. They are eating.

4. Present Perfect Continuous

The present perfect continuous tense is sometimes known as the present perfect progressive tense. We usually use this tense to refer to something that has happened very recently.

  • I have been sleeping. (I was sleeping this past hour, which is why I didn’t hear your phone call.)
  • You have been lying. (You lied continuously for the past few days, weeks, etc.)
  • She has been working full time in the summer. (In the past she worked full time in the summer, so I expect she will work full time next summer.)

Construction

Present perfect continuous follows this construction:

have been + present participle

In the singular third person, use has instead of have:

has been + present participle

Remember, the present participle is a verb that ends in –ing.

 

 SingularPlural
First personI have been eating. We have been eating.
Second personYou have been eating. You (all) have been eating.
Third personHe/she/it has been eating. They have been eating.

Next Steps

Feeling confident? Put your newly honed grammatical skills to the test by trying out a practice test.

Want to know more? Khan Academy has some great video lessons on verb tense (past, present, future) and verb aspect (simple, progressive/continuous, perfect).

For more GED prep, you should also check out our 5 Ways to Study for the GED Online.

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About Sarah Bradstreet

Sarah is an educator and writer with a Master’s degree in education from Syracuse University who has helped students succeed on standardized tests since 2008. She loves reading, theater, and chasing around her two kids.


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